Published On: Sun, Jan 5th, 2020

Government refuses election observers

Administration building

PHILIPSBURG — The Sint Maarten Christian Party, SMCP, learned that The Netherlands did offer to pay for the international election observers to visit Sint Maarten during this week’s election but that the Government has not yet taken up the Dutch on their offer.

This is worrisome, because in an article, published in the Daily Herald on December 7th, 2019, Prime Minister Jacobs said that she had “absolutely no problem” with elections being observed as long as Sint Maarten did not have to pay. This is based on the liquidity position as country, Sint Maarten would not be able to bear the cost. PM Jacobs then indicated that if The Netherlands wanted to bear the cost she would have no problem with that. My question to the Government is: if The Netherlands is willing to pay and Sint Maarten has no problem with that, why hasn’t the Government then accepted the offer made by the Netherlands? Money to pay for the election observers is not a problem. This was also not a problem now almost two years ago when the Netherlands footed the bill for the observers to monitor the 2018 election on Sint Maarten.

Not responding to the offer raises questions locally but also in the international community. The first question raised in this context is: why hasn’t the Government responded? On June 21st 2017, the Economist, a well-known magazine wrote the following about international election observers: “Ever since the late 1990s, international observation of elections has become so widespread that refusing to admit monitors is almost an outright admission of fraud”. Therefore, if Sint Maarten did not respond to the offer by the Netherlands to pay for election observers it would obviously raise questions and give the impression that Sint Maarten has something to hide or is condoning certain illegal and unethical behavior during the election.

In an effort to promote transparency and accountability during the upcoming election SMCP, on December 10th2019, requested a meeting with the Prosecutor’s Office and also with the Central Voting Bureau (CVB) to discuss a number of issues related to fair and free elections. Issues such as: irregularities during the 2018 election, vote buying, the use of cell phones in the polling stations, adhering to rules around the polling stations, removal of curtains from voting booths and international election observers. The CVB thought the concerns raised by SMCP important enough to be shared with all political parties and therefore the CVB invited all political parties to the meeting. As far as the topic of election observers is concerned, both the Prosecutor’s Office and the CVB expressed the importance of monitoring the election by international observers. The CVB reiterated several times that they have absolutely no problem to work with such observers. For the sake of transparency and good working relations the CVB has even invited their colleagues (at their own cost) in the rest of the Kingdom and from the neighboring islands like Anguilla and the BVI to come and observe the election in Sint Maarten in an unofficial capacity.

The Prime Minister indicated in the previously mentioned news article that observers are not necessary. However, the absence of and especially the refusal to have observers, especially when they come at no cost to government can lead one to think that Sint Maarten does have something to hide. It is known that in previous elections vote buying was very prevalent. It is known that politicians and supporters do not uphold the rules set by the Minister of Justice for the day of election regarding conduct in the immediate vicinity of the polling stations. During Election Day in 2018 several breaches of the rules were observed and documented by SMCP. Our report was submitted and presented to the Central Voting Bureau and to the Team of International observers last year.

SMCP is of the opinion that if the Government has been provided the option by The Netherlands for observers at no cost we should take them up on the offer. Considering the late hour, it may or may not be possible to get observers from The Netherlands and other international countries. If this is the case it may be still possible to contact Aruba, Curacao and other countries in the region to see if they could still send observers at such short notice. The Government could request The Netherlands to bear these costs instead.

This year SMCP trusts that the Prosecutor’s Office will once again draw the attention of the public to the fact that electoral violations such as vote buying are punishable by law and that voters should refrain from participating in such illegal practices. It must be noted that not only the vote buyer but also the person who is selling his/her vote punishable by law.

SMCP remains hopeful that the Government will still do its utmost to ensure the legitimacy of the election of January 9th 2020. However, considering that Sint Maarten is now on the world stage, the country should take bigger steps towards showing the international community that they can trust in our democratic process and receiving international observers would go a long way towards doing that.

Wycliffe Smith
Leader of the SMCP